Youth advocates rally in Harlem against Hochul’s proposed Raise the Age rollback

New York City clergy, state legislators, youth advocates and legal service providers joined forces on Friday morning in Harlem to denounce Governor Kathy Hochul’s proposal to roll back the state’s Raise the Age law through the state budget.

In rejecting the Governor’s proposed changes to bail reform and the 2017 Raise the Age law that raised the state’s age of criminal responsibility from 16 to 18 years old, the coalition argued that Hochul needs to  provide increased investments to address the underlying causes of violent crime. 

“We need to protect legislation like Raise the Age and recognize that gun violence is a poverty issue. We need to invest in our communities and protect our children,” said a spokesperson for state Sen. Cordell Cleare (D-Harlem) at the rally.

The proposal to change Raise the Age is part of the Governor’s 10-point public safety package originally leaked to the New York Post, which also includes expanding the number of crimes that are bail eligible. Hochul verified the existence of the plan at a news conference Monday.

The Governor is proposing to change Raise the Age by granting judges the option to keep a case in criminal court if a person from age 16 to 18 is in possession of a gun, according to the Post. The plan reportedly justified the rollback by pointing to “a dramatic increase in the number of teens under 18 carrying guns.”

Members of the coalition argued that Raise the Age is not responsible for the increase in gun violence. 

Instead of treating young people with gun offenses as adults, speakers at the rally argued the Governor could better address the spike in gun violence by spending more on housing programs, vocational programs, mental health services, youth engagement programs and programs that address gun violence as a public health issue.

Apostle Onleilove AlstonPhoto by Max Parrott

“We have to provide resources, not jail to our young people, through a state budget that prioritizes marginalized youth, young adults and families,” said Apostle Onleilove Alston from Harlem Clergy United & Beyond and Prophetic Whirlwind Ministries.

Jason Cone, chief policy officer of the Robin Hood foundation, pointed out that the state has so far failed to distribute the $800 million in social services that was allocated for the Raise the Age legislation as part of the 2018 state budget. A spokesperson for the Office of Children and Family Services said the state government had only distributed just $290 million of that funding.

“We remain fully committed to meet our statutory obligation to reimburse 100 percent of eligible local Raise the Age costs,” said the spokesperson.

The coalition is in league with the leaders of the Legislature. In response to Hochul’s proposal to rollback bail and Raise the Age, legislative leaders expressed opposition to the plan, creating a major source of conflict over the plan as the Legislature nears the April 1 budget deadline.

Speakers at the rally didn’t hold back criticism of Mayor Adams either, who first generated signal boosted the call to roll back the Raise the Age law shortly after he took office, claiming that adults frequently force teenages to carry their weapons to take advantage of the law. 

Alice Fontier, Director at Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem, argued that the alteration to the Raise the Age would undo a core tenant of the juvenile justice system. She said that the point of sealing these records is to prevent offenses committed as a child from following them for the rest of their lives.

“This proposal could destroy that core belief and eliminate a foundational principle on which the entire system of juvenile justice rests,” Frontier said.

Updated at 10:35 a.m. on March 28, 2022.